Weight loss is an extremely common fitness goal, especially as the weather starts to get colder entering into the final stretch of the year. More time indoors and shorter days generally mean people get less active, not to mention the increased availability of holiday snacks and desserts! Between 2013 and 2016, the CDC reported that nearly half of all American adults attempted to lose weight at some point in the last 12 months.
Yet despite how prevalent the desire to lose weight is, there are many misconceptions about what it takes to shed pounds. Some people engage in endless amounts of cardio while neglecting strength training. Others increase their activity level but fail to properly manage their diet.
In reality, losing weight requires a holistic approach. You need to reduce your total calories consumed, increase your activity level, and make sure you’re eating the kinds of foods that will keep you energized throughout the day. If you want to lose weight efficiently, protein should play a significant role in your diet. Not only will it help you control your appetite and keep hunger in check, increasing your protein intake can also help you improve muscle mass, which can be important for achieving and sustaining weight loss.
Many people mistakenly feel whey protein shakes are only for people who want to increase their size or “get big,” by adding muscle mass. This idea is a common misconception, based on the fact that people often consume extra protein to add muscle.
The truth is, there is no single type of shake, drink or food that will cause weight gain. Whenever you consume more calories than your body needs throughout the day – also known as your daily caloric goal or maintenance caloric rate – you will put on weight. To lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than your daily maintenance rate.
In fact, protein can actually be one of the most important nutrients in a weight loss diet. Studies indicate that a diet higher in protein may confer weight loss benefits for those looking to shed body fat, primarily due to its impact on satiety – feeling full. Data indicates that eating meals higher in protein will lead to an increase in satiety to a greater degree than meals higher in fats and carbohydrates. Feeling full is important for weight loss, since it helps you manage your caloric intake.
And while certain kinds of protein shakes can be loaded with calories – sometimes advertised as “bulkers” or “weight gainers” – there are plenty of different formulations of protein powder made to help people with vastly different fitness goals. Some are low-calorie formulations that are designed for people who are looking to lose weight.
If protein can be helpful as part of a weight loss diet, which kind should you use? As mentioned, there are a variety of different formulations available on the market for people with different goals and dietary preferences. Broadly speaking, proteins can be divided into two classes: fast-digesting and slow-digesting. As the name suggests, slow-digesting proteins take longer to move through the body, while fast-digesting proteins are processed more quickly.
Whey protein is considered a fast-digesting protein, while other kinds like casein are considered slow-digesting. Proteins that stay in your body longer tend to be better for satiety, but if you are looking to maximize the delivery of protein to your muscles, a fast-digesting option may be better.
Also consider that whey protein is a dairy product, since it is derived from cow’s milk. Certain people with lactose intolerance or dietary sensitivities may not be able to consume these kinds of protein shakes. These kinds of people may be better off with a different style of protein, such as pea protein powder.
As you compare the different kinds of proteins available, remember that – as is the case with planning your macronutrients – there is not a single kind of protein that will unlock the key to your weight loss. Almost any kind of protein supplement can be used as a tool for either weight loss or weight gain – it all depends on how you incorporate it into your broader diet and the amount of protein you are consuming each day.
As previously mentioned, supplements like protein are just one element of losing weight. Successfully losing fat, building muscle or changing your body in any way requires a comprehensive plan that addresses your activity level as well as your food consumption.
Here are a few other tips to ensure your weight loss plan is a holistic one:
Calculate your daily macro targets. These numbers define how many grams of protein, fats and carbohydrates you should consume each day. It’s also valuable to know your daily caloric goal, but many people prefer to focus on reaching their macronutrient targets with a more flexible eating style. This is typically known as “fitting your macros,” and while it works for many, it’s just one approach to a daily eating pattern.
Exercise consistently. While it is technically possible to lose weight without exercising, it’s far from the optimal approach. Regular cardio workouts of any kind – even if they’re just long walks – can help strengthen your heart, improve your immune system and manage your body weight. You can also take smaller steps throughout the day to get more active, such as parking your car further away from places you go or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Make it sustainable. This step is arguably the most important component of any weight loss plan. It takes prolonged time adhering to a diet to make progress – it’s not something that can be achieved in a single day or even a few days. It’s good to have big goals for yourself and your fitness, but you’ll also want to be realistic and flexible. Choose a diet that still allows you to enjoy life and socialize as you regularly would.
It may be helpful to choose a specific diet program like low-fat or low-carb eating, but you are also free to incorporate elements from multiple programs. The key is to find a weight loss plan that works for your unique lifestyle, experience level and dietary preferences while allowing you to maintain sufficient energy expenditure for fat loss.
Before making any changes to your existing diet or workout plan, it's always best to consult with a professional such as a doctor or dietitian. These specialists can help you determine whether higher-protein diets are best for you, how to incorporate dietary proteins like lean meat and legumes into your diet, and how to make sure you get enough protein to keep you full throughout the day.
High-protein foods and protein shakes are for more than just bodybuilders or people looking to bulk up by adding lean muscle. Eating protein-rich foods is not only more satiating in the short-term, in the long term it can help you control overeating and stay under your goals for your daily calories. A dietary or medical professional can help you identify the best sources of protein snacks and meals that will help you along your weight loss journey.